Saturday, January 22, 2022



Andrew Robert Burn (1902-1991), Persia and the Greeks: The Defence of the West, c. 546-478 B.C. (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1962; rpt. Minerva Press, 1968), p. 260:
Political events in early fifth-century Athens were chiefly the expression of the rivalries of prominent men and families. Ambition, in men born to greatness, was a proper feeling: 'Ever to be the noblest and superior to others' was a Homeric ideal.7 It is only after centuries of Christianity, or at least lip-service to Christianity, that this lust after the power and the glory has to be veiled, at least from the public eye, behind a programme of service; even at its most naked, expressed in such a saying as 'I believe that I can save this nation and that no one else can'. To a pagan Greek or Roman, the desire to be the best or noblest (aristeuein, a word devoid of moral connotation) was well expressed in the desire to shine in athletics, 'for', to cite Homer again, 'a man has no truer glory than that which he wins with his own feet and hands';8 and even in Greek feeling about athletics in this age, there is a sense of triumph over the defeated rival which is to us repulsive. Pindar twice reminds us of the shame of defeated wrestlers, slinking home, 'avoiding their enemies', as an ingredient in the joy of the victor.9 Sportsmanship, like humility, is a Christian virtue.

7 Il. vi, 208; xi, 784; etc.
8 Od. viii, 147f.
9 Ol. viii, 67/89ff, Pyth. viii, 81/116ff.

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